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POETICAL

LITERATURE

OF THE

PAST HALF-CENTURY

LECTURE I.

State of Poetical Literature at the commencement of the present century.The long mastery of the school of Dryden and Pope ultimately modified by Thomson, Goldsmith, Cowper, and Burns.-The temporary triumphs of Hayley, Darwin, and the Della Cruscans.-Literary tastes influenced by social changes.-Matthew Gregory Lewis, and the supernatural school; its characteristics and peculiarities.-Kirke White and James Grahame ; specimens of the manner of the latter in Love of Country and The Covenanters.The satirical and humorous poetry of Canning, Frere, Gifford, Mathias, and George Colman the younger.-Sketches of Bloomfield and Leyden.Specimen, from the first, The Blind Boy; from the second, Apostrophe to Aurelia.-Female writers of the period: Charlotte Smith, Amelia Opie, (specimen, Forget-me-Not), Mrs Hunter, Mrs Grant, and Mrs Tighe.— Translators and Poets of the period less commonly known; general estimate of their merits.-The Rev. George Crabbe: his rise and progress; his originality. Specimens in Gipsy's Tent and Lyrical Tales.-Samuel Rogers and Lisle Bowles; the high artistic excellencies of the former.Examples of his manner.-Controversy regarding the invariable principles of poetry between Campbell, Bowles, and Byron.

SUCH was the mastery which the writings of Dryden and Pope had acquired over English literature, that their influence continued to be felt to the utmost limits of the last century: their sentiments and modes of thought seemed stereotyped; and the music of their verse was that to which not only Churchill and Samuel

A

2

NATIONAL MODES OF THOUGHT.

Johnson, but Goldsmith and William Hayley, tuned their lyres. Many circumstances had, however, been latterly combining to bring about a revolution in public taste; to stimulate to novelty; to extend the circle of thinkers and readers; and to irrigate and refresh the fields of literature. Scarcely had the American war terminated, when that lurid flame skirted the horizon, which was afterwards to blaze abroad in the raging hurricane of the French Revolution-when thrones were to be shaken, and faiths were to be convulsed, and old landmarks removed, and the very bonds which held society together stretched to the verge of utter rupture.

The literature of an age is the reflection of its existing manners and modes of thought, etherealised and refined in the alembic of genius; and the truth of this position will be evident, if we turn for the highest tone of the Greek mind to Eschylus and Euripides—for that of the Roman, to Virgil and Horace-for that of the Italian, to Dante and Ariosto-for that of the German, to Goethe and Schiller-for that of the Spanish, to Calderon and Cervantes-for that of the French, to Racine and Corneille and for that of the English, to Shakespeare and Milton. It may also be admitted, that the intellectual character of an era must ever be, in a great measure, moulded and modified by cotemporaneous exigencies. In semi-barbarous ages, indeed, there have appeared, like gigantic apparitions, spirits that have grappled with and overcome stupendous difficulties ; and yet have evidently been so far before their time that their rising might be considered merely heliacal, as, single and unaccompanied, they have irradiated the gloomy atmosphere to which their extinction seemed to lend an added darkness. Such was Alfred, the morning star of Saxon civilisation; such was Roger Bacon, who paid the penalty for thinking more deeply than his cotemporaries could comprehend; such was "The Starry Galileo with his woes ;" and such was Geoffrey Chaucer,

INFLUENCE OF CIVILISATION.

by more than two centuries the harbinger of that day which was to rejoice in the meridian sunlight of Shakespeare and Milton.

Since the era of these Titanic spirits, it would appear, on a general survey, that we have been more anxiously employed in refining the materials to work upon, than in adding to our hereditary treasures. It may be argued, that circumstances are not now so advantageous for observation as they were of yore, when the mind of the nation was emerging from rudeness to refinement,— when manners retained their sharp angles, and etiquette had not amalgamated the various groups of society into one great concrete mass. One of the phases of civilisation being concealment,―the teaching man how he may most dexterously and successfully hide his wants, and yet realise his wishes,-this suppression of the external working of the passions lends an artificial varnish to character; through which it is more difficult to divine the springs of action, and to penetrate the motives by which individuals are governed.

While the materials for verse, therefore, cannot well exist in abundance in the Cimmerian chaos of primal barbarism-for we cannot desecrate the name of poetry by applying it to what may be gleaned from the rude memorials of crime and cruelty and bloodshed, which brutalise the infant steps of society-scarcely more affluent will they be found in the zenith of that luxury which states and peoples generally attain immediately before their decline, and final overthrow and extinction. There is a middle space between light and darkness, a twilight with its receding stars and its rising sun, a table-land separating the confines of barbarism and refinement, which appears to be that best adapted for most things, for intellectual exercise and enterprise, as well as for the development of the imaginative faculty; for there the arabesque pageantry of night and the shadows of darkness have not yet disappeared, and the

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